Every snack you make, every meal you bake, every bite you take…I’ll be watching you.” — Every Dog Ever
Norman Rockwell Meets The Castle Ghost, And Peri Falls Off The Good-Dog Wagon
By Peri Taub, PTWP*
*(Pandemic Therapist With Paws) as transcribed by her person Barb (whose opposable thumbs might as well be useful for something besides opening dog food…)
In Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving painting, Mom brings out the turkey, while Dad stands by proudly ready to carve the bird. Family and friends line the table, beaming with delight.
If Norman had been painting our first Thanksgiving in the castle, the picture would have shown Barb getting up before dawn (don’t be impressed — in the north of England, that could be any time before about 10:00AM) because I was having a fit in the kitchen.
NOTE 1: The vet calls it canine epilepsy, but Barb’s daughter said Barb and the Hub were just getting ‘Peculiar’* – living in part of a castle with a dog who has fits.
NOTE 2: * ‘Peculiar’ is how our polite neighbors in Virginia would describe a painfully eccentric but not yet destitute soul. If said Peculiar had just insulted, tricked, or injured them, they would add, “bless her heart.”
Next, the painter could have included the soapy water flooding the kitchen from our washing machine. It’s the UK, so this was kept in the kitchen, and was (like me) also prone to fits. The picture wouldn’t be complete without Turkey Tom, knocked to the floor by my convulsions, and floating serenely through the chaos, his naked splendor emerging as he shed his layer of dry-brine among the soap suds.
As a therapist dog, I know the holidays are always challenging, but for expats, the potential for disaster goes up dramatically at culturally sensitive times like national holidays and March Madness NCAA Tournament. Since American Thanksgiving basically celebrates the Pilgrim’s successful escape from England, it’s not exactly surprising that it’s an under-observed feast in the UK. Thus, although Barb ordered Tom weeks in advance, she got a phone message two days before Thanksgiving. It was from the Farm Shop offering a heartfelt apology for the mistake in her order. They went on to explain that someone — probably some American who had no idea when to order her Christmas turkey — accidentally put in an order for delivery of her Christmas turkey in November. But Barb was not to worry: they cancelled that order and she could pick up her Christmas turkey by Christmas Eve like every decent family in the UK.
Barb had visions of serving chicken to the dozen or so guests she’d invited to the castle to share our traditional American Thanksgiving. Panicked phone messages were exchanged, along with the information that Americans eat their turkey in November. Soon Tom was back as guest of honor, although when we went to the farm shop to pick him up, everyone on the farm poured out to see The-American-Who-Eats-Her-Christmas-Dinner-In-November.
So on Thanksgiving morning, as the Hub shuttled arriving guests from the train station, Barb rescued a sudsy Turkey Tom from where I was sniffing him with great interest. After using every towel in the place to soak up the flood, she then considered whether to coax the washer back to life. Rather than risk another deluge, she decided to run the laundry down to the industrial washing machine in the castle basement.
There was only a small window of opportunity. She knew she couldn’t leave the demanding cast-iron French tyrant in our living room fireplace for any length of time, a sure signal for him to belch out clouds of greasy black smoke, setting off smoke alarms for the entire castle and summoning the local fire brigade. This behavior always sent me into uncontrolled paroxysms of sympathy barks, which process had already gotten us on the fire department’s sh*t warning list.
I happily followed Barb to the basement, delighted at the chance to catch up with my friends, the castle cats. But as we headed back upstairs, I stopped dead. Barb knew what that meant. The castle ghost — the Grey Lady suspected of being the jilted fiancé of the Bobby Shafto ballad — was famously quite shy. But Barb could always tell when the Grey Lady was calling. I would stop dead, growling threats, my fur somehow twice its usual size as I carefully backed up.
Barb couldn’t leave me to play hide-and-seek with a ghost through the 200+ castle rooms, and anyway it seemed rude somehow to walk straight ahead when… something… was there. So we had to go back down through the basement, up the far stairs, out through the door and across the castle bailey (courtyard) to our massive, twice-Barb’s-height tower door. Which was, predictably, locked. As was the door we had just come out. The cats and I began racing happily around the bailey as Barb stood with a basket of wet laundry on a ridiculously cold November morning. She did not demonstrate an appropriate level of Thanksgiving gratitude for the icy rain which (of course) started.
But the Hub soon arrived with another kitchen slave Thanksgiving guest. I came in and led the way up the circular stone stairway to our flat at the top of the tower.
Of course, halfway up, the Grey Lady put in another appearance, so I started backing back down the steps. For the first time, I appreciated how those circular stairways contributed to castle defenses. Supposedly the curve was to provide strategic advantage to right-handed sword-wielding persons defending the castle, but it also proved effective in allowing one dog (and one ghost) to successfully hold Barb, the Hub, and all their guests at bay.
Finally, the Grey Lady let us back into our flat in the nick of time to open all the windows in the living room and wave the smoke out just before Emile, our attention-whoring wood stove, managed to set off the fire alarms. By now we were significantly behind schedule, so I herded everyone to the kitchen for intensive meal prep. As each kitchen slave/university student arrived, they were handed a peeler and put to work on the mountains of potatoes and apples.
By that evening, Norman Rockwell would indeed have seen a dozen faces admiring Tom’s (very clean) golden brown perfection.
And if Rockwell had hung around past the initial turkey shredding, he could have seen the Grey Lady backing me into the room where the pies were cooling. And very quickly after that, he could have painted a delighted therapist dog sitting next to what was left of the giant deep-dish apple pies meant for dessert. I was so thankful for the gift from the pie-angels that I ate the center of each one. Barb was thankful for wonderful family and friends who insisted the chocolate ice-cream dug out of the bottom of the freezer was the perfect end to such a traditional American Thanksgiving.
I also had a pretty good idea of what the Grey Lady was thankful for, but neither of us was telling. Bless her heart.